Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

B.B. King Bar: Serving a Cultural Mix

A description of a recently opened Moscow bar sounds like the beginning of some bad ethnic joke: An Ethiopian, a Jewish Armenian and two Russians own an American blues bar managed by an Irishman.

As Moscow businesses go, the B.B. King Bar at 4/2 Sadovo-Samotechnaya Ulitsa is about as multi-ethnic as they come, to a degree that would have been extremely unlikely in the past, one partner said.

"People are getting together from different places now," said Denis Legeev, 26, as he sat in his office on a recent Saturday night. "This kind of project would have been impossible even three years ago."

Dmitri Braude, 27, a Jewish Armenian who is another partner, said, "There were some jokes about it at first ... But the most important question was whether we wanted to do it. And, the second question was that we could trust each other, because this is a risky business. It is easy to fail."

So far, however, the bar named after the legendary Mississippi blues singer is doing quite well with capacity crowds on live music nights and a healthy lunch trade, featuring everything from steaks to seafood.

"We are definitely going to make it as a business," said Legeev of the bar which opened on June 23. "We didn't do much advertising and we are still doing pretty well."

Three of the four partners -- Braude, Berhanu Tesfae of Ethiopia and Yevgeny Levshin, a Russian -- met at Moscow's Institute of Oil and Gas where they studied together in the late 1980s. Later, through friends, they met Legeev. Charlie Donovan, the Irish manager of B.B. King, entered the picture when the trio met him at the Shamrock Bar, where Donovan was an assistant manager. The idea of the bar was born when the partners met over a kitchen table in January 1993.

"We were all involved in small businesses, but it was unstable," Legeev said. "One day you trade cigarettes, the next day ashtrays or glasses. It's hard to get bigger."

"Each one of us had made some money at that point," he said. "And, instead of buying a Mercedes, we decided to invest it in this place."

The multi-ethnic ownership of B.B. King is mirrored in the staff, which includes waiters from Nigeria, Ethiopia, Barbados, Canada and the United States. Even though the restaurant was primarily looking for Russian waiters who spoke foreign languages, many foreigners applied.

"So we ended up with Nigerians, Pakistanis, Indians, Ethiopians," as well as Russians, Donovan, the bar manager, said, because racial minorities "find it so difficult to get work here."

Although the international staff makes the bar a more interesting place, Donovan said he had some early worries about customers' racial attitudes.

"I was afraid of it originally because of the kind of reaction they get in Moscow," said Donovan, but he added that no problems have arisen. "I sat them down and explained that the problems here might be worse because of the drinking. That it might be more aggressive. They said they were prepared to deal with it."